Scottish rugby officials have sought legal advice on whether its crucial Rugby World Cup clash with host Japan can be canceled because of the threat of Typhoon Hagibis.
The Scots are due to face Japan in Yokohama Sunday in a game they must win to have a realistic chance of progressing to the knockout stages, but the match could be called off for safety reasons.
Under World Cup rules, there is no provision for a postponement and the result would go down as a 0-0 draw with both team awarded two points, meaning Scotland would likely be eliminated.
Japan is top of Pool A on 14 points with world No.1 Ireland, which takes on Samoa Saturday, in second on 11 points and Scotland third on 10.
“For World Rugby to just simply state that the game has to be canceled goes against the whole sporting integrity of the tournament,” said Scotland Rugby Union (SRU) chief executive Mark Dodson, talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme Friday.
“We’ve had legal opinion that challenges World Rugby’s interpretation.”
Saturday’s games between New Zealand and Italy, as well as England’s match against France, have already been called off because of the approaching typhoon, which organizers say is “predicted to be one of the largest and most destructive typhoons to hit Japan since 1958.”
However, governing body World Rugby says it is “disappointing that the Scottish Rugby Union should make such comments” when it is doing all it can to enable all of Sunday’s matches take place given the “real and significant threat to public safety.”
It added Scotland – along with the 19 other teams – had signed a terms of participation agreement which states, “Where a pool match cannot be commenced on the day in which it is scheduled, it shall not be postponed to the following day, and shall be considered as canceled.”
World Rugby emphasized its priority is to the safety of fans and players around Japan over the weekend and said it was making the “fair and correct decision.”
‘Hasn’t been a fluke’
Japan’s coach Jamie Joseph has bristled at insinuations that his side would prefer the game to be canceled, thereby allowing an easy passage to the last eight.
“Everyone in our squad, the players and staff, wants to play the match,” Joseph told reporters Friday. “I’d like to remind people that it hasn’t been a fluke. We have played and won three matches and that has put us in the best position in the pool.”
With wins over Russia, Ireland and Samoa, Joseph’s side has demonstrated that it is a formidable force in front of its home fans.
But former All Backs star Joseph is rankled by the shifting narrative away from his team’s exploits on the field.
“All the media reports in the last few days are about an uncontrollable thing like the typhoon and [the coverage] has really lost its way,” he said.
“The reports I have read are about legal proceedings, but what I’m saying is it’s a huge test match for our team and I feel that we have the most to lose as we are in the best position to top the pool.
“It’s important for us to wake up on Monday morning and understand that [either] we are a worthy top eight team or we are not quite good enough.”
On Thursday, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend had pleaded with organizers to ensure the game goes ahead.
“I hope everyone involved in the tournament wants the game to be played and will do their utmost for the game to be played,” he told reporters.
Although Hagibis, which is expected to make landfall Saturday, has been downgraded from a super typhoon, it is still expected to deliver “sustained winds of around 100 miles per hour, which is equivalent to a category 2 Atlantic hurricane,” according to CNN meteorologist Haley Brin.
The British Embassy in Tokyo has issued advice to fans in Japan regarding their safety over the weekend.
Both Dodson and Townsend spoke of the importance of player and fan safety, but Scotland’s coach emphasized his desperation to see the game take place.
“The opportunity to face the hosts in such a decisive pool match will be a unique occasion and should be a great spectacle,” said Townsend.
“Games of this magnitude don’t come around very often in a playing career so we will be giving it everything to make sure it is a memorable match.”